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Wendy Reuer, Published September 26 2010

Poverty rates dropping in North Dakota

Numbers released this week show that the number of people living in poverty in North Dakota is dropping.

While it is a good sign for some, others remain skeptical the numbers aren’t predictive of what could happen.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, North Dakota is among the top three states with the smallest percentage of people living below the poverty line.

The Census Bureau set the 2009 poverty threshold at an annual income of $10,830 for a single person. For a family of four, it is $22,050.

The latest U.S. Census numbers show that in 2009, North Dakota’s poverty rate was 10.9 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2008.

The official national rate increased in 2009 at 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008.

In 2009, the survey shows Minnesota’s poverty rate at 11.9 percent. That is up from the 2008 poverty rate of 9.6 percent, according to Barbara Ronningen at the Minnesota State Data Center.

Heather Steffl, with the N.D. Department of Human Resources, said that is very good news for her office because that means fewer people, or about 5,000, are living in poverty.

However, Karen Olson with the North Dakota Data Center cautions against those numbers. Olson said the Census Bureau has a .10 percent margin of error and generally recommends looking at an average of two years when making comparisons rather than going year by year.

Considering the error rate, the 2008 and 2009 numbers are a wash, Olson said.

Although statewide, the poverty level may in fact be decreasing, locally, homelessness has increased.

In the Fargo-Moorhead area, 987 people were homeless in 2009, up from 836 in 2008.

Rod Backman, chair of the N.D. Census Committee who has worked on a strategic plan for the N.D. Economic Development Foundation, said homelessness can go up, while poverty rates decrease.

“With the poverty rate at 10 percent, and our population is 646,000, we’re talking about 64-some-thousand that would fall under the poverty rate,” he said.

Of those tens of thousands, some may be able to pull themselves out of poverty while some can fall further behind, eventually becoming homeless in a year’s time.

Still, a low percentage of poor people is an indicator the state is moving in the right direction, Backman says.

“I don’t know how low you can get the poverty rate, but promoting jobs and economic stability certainly have an impact,” Backman said. “And North Dakota has done that.”

For Minnesota State University Moorhead students Victoria French and Emilee Pritchett, North Dakota’s decreasing poverty rate is good news. Still, they are leery of what the economic climate will be when they graduate.

“It does surprise me when I hear about (the poverty rate),” Pritchett said. “It changes so quickly. We could be at the top of the list one year and be at the bottom the next.”

French said she knows coming from a single parent family, it can be tough out there for struggling adults.

Poverty levels by state

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530